October 21: Nobel Day

On this date in 1833 Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm, Sweden. When he was nine years old he moved with his family to St. Petersburg, Russia where his father worked as an engineer manufacturing explosives. In Russia, Nobel studied chemistry and became fluent in English, French, German, Russian. Later the family moved back to Sweden, and Alfred worked for his father in his factory experimenting with explosives. Tragedy struck in 1864 when an explosion in the Nobel factory killed five people, including Alfred’s younger brother Emil. Resolved to invent a safer explosive, Nobel went to work and in 1867 he patented his invention which he called “Nobel’s Safety Powder.” The new explosive was indeed more safe, combining nitroglycerin and an absorbent sand, but it needed a more catchy name. To solve this problem, Nobel turned to a Greek root for “power” and coined the world dynamite. Dynamite did in fact make the work of miners safer; however, its use in warfare also made killing more efficient.

In 1888, a French newspaper mistakenly published an obituary of Alfred, stating, “The merchant of death is dead.” Although the reports of his death were greatly exaggerated, the obituary still caused Alfred to reflect on his legacy. He immediately changed his will, setting aside his fortune to establish the Nobel Prizes, awarded each year in Sweden for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and for contributions towards peace. A prize for economics was added in 1968.

Today’s Challenge: Dynamite Inventions
What would you argue is the greatest single invention of all time? What do you know about its inventor and how it was invented? Brainstorm a list of inventions. Then, select the one that you think is deserving of being recognized for its genius. Write an explanation of why you think the invention is so special. Include some details from research on its inventor and where, when, and how the invention came to be. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. -Thomas Edison

1-http://www.biography.com/people/alfred-nobel-9424195#an-invention-and-a-legacy

October 20:  Adopt a Literary Character Day

On this day in 1833, the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) completed his great dramatic monologue Ulysses.  

The voice of the poem, or persona, is Ulysses, the Latin name of the epic Greek hero Odysseus.  In writing this poem, Tennyson adopts the character Ulysses from Homer, the author of the epic Greek poems The Iliad and the Odyssey.  The Odyssey is the epic narrative that follows Ulysses’ 10-year struggle to return home after the Trojan War.  Once home on Ithaca, Ulysses faces another challenge to out wit the suitors vying to win the hand of his wife Penelope.  Displaying brawn but also brains, Ulysses defeats the suitors in a contest, slaughters them, reunites with his wife, and once again becomes king of Ithaca.

Alfred Lord Tennyson 1869.jpgThe poem Ulysses imagines the hero years after he has returned to the throne.  In the tradition of the dramatic monologue, we hear only the voice of the old king as he reflects on his past, on his relative idleness as King of Ithaca, and on his desire to once again set out on a bold adventure.  The understood audience of the poem is the crew of his ship, the men who will join him on his new journey.

In the poem’s opening lines we hear the voice of a king, weary of his kingly duties on Ithaca and restless to return again to sea:

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;

Willing to give up his throne to his son Telemachus and to leave his wife, Ulysses looks forward once more to bold adventures and seeing “a newer world.”  Rather than staying put and rusting, Ulysses wants “to shine in use!”  It is appropriate then that the poem ends with a string of parallel action verbs:

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Like much of the verse of William Shakespeare, Ulysses is written in blank verse, unrhymed iambic pentameter.

Today’s Challenge:  Write a SPAT Monologue
What fictional character from literature or film would you adopt for a dramatic monologue?  Brainstorm some interesting characters from either books or film.  Like Tennyson did for Ulysses, imagine the life of the character after the work you know them for is over.  What would he/she be thinking about and what would he/she be saying — and to whom would he/she be saying it.  Write a dramatic monologue using the mnemonic SPAT:  the Speaker, a Problem (or dramatic situation), the Audience, and the Tone (or attitude).  Try to capture the distinctiveness of your character, impersonating his/her voice so that it can be understood by your reader. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  A monologue presents a single person speaking alone, but a dramatic monologue presents an imaginary or historical character speaking to an imaginary listener or audience . . . . -Edward Hirsch

October 19:  Letter of Advice Day

On this day in 1860 Abraham Lincoln, in the final day of his run for the U.S. presidency, wrote a letter to a 11-year-old girl from Westerfield, New York named Grace Bedell.  Four days earlier, Grace had written to her favorite candidate with the following specific advice:

I am a little girl only eleven years old, but want you should be President of the United States very much so I hope you won’t think me very bold to write to such a great man as you are. Have you any little girls about as large as I am if so give them my love and tell her to write to me if you cannot answer this letter. I have got 4 brother’s and part of them will vote for you any way and if you will let your whiskers grow I will try and get the rest of them to vote for you   you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husband’s to vote for you and then you would be President.

Lincoln’s response to Grace’s letter was brief, yet its words showed that he had read her letter and was considering her advice regarding facial hair:

October 19, 1860

Springfield, Illinois
Miss. Grace Bedell

My dear little Miss.

Your very agreeable letter of the 15th. is received.

I regret the necessity of saying I have no daughters. I have three sons — one seventeen, one nine, and one seven, years of age. They, with their mother, constitute my whole family.

As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you not think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now? Your very sincere well-wisher.

A. Lincoln (1)

As reflected in Grace’s letter, Lincoln was in fact clean-shaven before he become president.  However, by the time he took the oath as the 16th president, Lincoln had grown the beard that he wore throughout his presidency. In fact, prior to taking the oath on March 4, 1861, he made a stop in Westfield, meeting his young campaign adviser.

Today’s Challenge:  Take My Advice
If you were to write a letter of advice to a public figure, to whom would you write and what kind of advice would you give them?  Brainstorm some possible public figures to whom you might write letters of advice:  politicians, celebrities, professional athletes, etc.  Select one and write an open letter of advice.  An open letter is a letter that is written to an individual but is intended to be published publicly and to read by a wide audience.  In addition to your specific advice, give detailed explanation that both shows and tells why your advice is worthwhile. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Letters have to pass two tests before they can be classed as good: they must express the personality both of the writer and of the recipient. -E. M. Forester

1-http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gracebedell.htm

2-http://readingeagle.com/news/article/after-127-years-beard-making-a-comeback-at-governors-mansion#sthash.6Qmlpt3W.dpuf

 

October 18: TLA Day

On this date in 1922 the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) was formed. In its almost one hundred years as the United Kingdom’s public-service broadcast service on both radio and television, it has been responsible for propagating what is known as Received Pronunciation.

BBC.svgWhat the printing press did for making written English standard, the BBC has done for making spoken British English standard. With a variety of regional dialects of English in the United Kingdom, the BBC created an Advisory Committee on Spoken English in 1926 to explore and establish the best forms of pronunciation among competing usages. The influence and popularity of BBC broadcasts, especially during World War II, established the English spoken on air as the “correct” way to speak English. This Received Pronunciation goes by several names: “Standard English,” “the Queen’s English,” “Oxford English,” “Public School English,” or “BBC English.”

“BBC” is an example of a three-letter abbreviation (TLA), the common method in English of condensing language to save time and space. Whether its the name of corporations (IBM), politicians (JFK), computer terms (CPU), agencies (CIA), countries (UAE), or text messaging (LOL), TLAs continue to be ALR (all the rage).

One distinction should be made in regard to two key terms associated with abbreviations: acronyms and initialism.

An abbreviation is the general term for any shortened form of a word or phrase, such as Oct. for October.

An acronym is a specific type of abbreviation in which the first letters of words are combined to form a word, as in RAM (Random Access Memory).

An initialism is another specific type of abbreviation in which the first letter of words are combined as upper case letters with each letter pronounced as an individual letter, as in FBI = “F” – “B” – “I.”

As you examine examples of TLAs you will discover that the vast majority fit in the category of initialisms. Many are familiar. Look at the gaggle of TLAs below to see which ones you recognize, and use a good dictionary to look up the ones you don’t.

ABC, AKA, BCS, CBS, CEO, CIA, CNN, CPA, CPU, DNA, DVD, EKG, FAQ, FYI, HIV, IBM, IOU, IRA, LCD, LDS, MLB, NBA, NBC, NFL, NHL, NYU, POW, SAT, SDI, UFO, VHS, WWW

TLAs harness the Rule of Three (ROT), a powerful principle in writing that recognizes that there seems to be something special, maybe even magical, about things in three. There’s nothing new about this principle. In Latin it was stated as “Omne trium perfectum,” or “everything that comes in threes is perfect.” Likewise the French motto “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” demonstrates the brevity, rhythm, and balance of a tried and true trio.

Today’s Challenge: Three-peat After Me
What is a three-word motto that you would use to sum up a principle for success in life, whether at work, at school, at home, or some other aspect of human endeavor? Brainstorm some original mottos and sum them up with a TLA. For example, in the film Glengarry Glen Ross (1984), the motto for success in selling real estate is ABC = “Always Be Closing.” To prime the pump here are a few other example mottos:

Be the change (BTC)

Dream, believe, achieve (DBA)

Just do it (JDI)

Pain is gain (PIG)

Love conquers all (LCA)

Keep it simple (KIS)

Quitters aren’t winners (QAW) (2)

Once you’ve settled on your TLA motto, write a short motivational message in which you explain what it means using appropriate examples and anecdotes to illustrate why it is a motto worth remembering and how it will help the audience achieve success. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: The world wide web is the only thing I know of whose shortened form [WWW] takes three times longer to say. -Douglas Adams

1-Crystal, David. Evolving English. London: British Library, 2010: 57.
2-http://motto.biz/three-word-mottos/

 

October 17:  Coin a Word Day

On this date in 2005, comedian and television personality Stephen Colbert unveiled a new word “truthiness.”  Speaking in the satiric tone familiar to fans of his show The Colbert Report, he introduced the word as follows:

And on this show, your voice will be heard… in the form of my voice. ‘Cause you’re looking at a straight-shooter, America. I tell it like it is. I calls ’em like I sees ’em. I will speak to you in plain simple English.

And that brings us to tonight’s word: truthiness.

Now I’m sure some of the Word Police, the wordanistas over at Webster’s, are gonna say, “Hey, that’s not a word.” Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true, or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books. They’re all fact, no heart (1).

On this night’s show the irony was especially thick, however, because as it turned out truthiness was not a new coinage after all.  As pointed out on the language website Language Log, the word dates back to 1824 according to the Oxford English Dictionary (2).

Even though Colbert cannot claim credit for coining the work, he can claim to have popularized it.  In fact, he got the last laugh on the “wordanistas” when The American Dialect Society selected truthiness as its Word of the Year in 2005.

New words, also known as neologisms, are popping up more than ever in the age of technology and the internet.  So many newly minted words are appearing, in fact that there are entire websites devoted to tracking neologisms.  One such site is Word Spy, where visitors can witness the genesis and evolution of words before their very eyes.  The words at Word Spy are not in the dictionary; instead, the are mere candidates for the big lexicographical show.  If they catch on and are used by real people, especially in written communication, they may make it from Word Spy to Webster’s.

In the book Microstyle:  The Art of Writing Little, Christopher Johnson traces the various paths that neologisms take from creation to dictionary.  To illustrate the different ways words are formed, Johnson provides the following seven methods of construction:

  1. Reuse an existing word (Apple, spam)
  2. Create a new compound word by sticking two words together (YouTube, website)
  3. Create a blend by combining part of a word with another word or word part (Technorati, Defeatocrat)
  4. Attach a prefix or a suffix to a word (Uncola, Feedster)
  5. Make something up out of arbitrary syllables (Bebo)
  6. Make an analogy or play on words (Farecast, podcast)
  7. Create an acronym (GUBA, scuba)

One of the oldest sources of new word coinages comes under Johnson’s second category.  It’s a special kind of compound word called a kenning – a figurative compound word construction.  In the Old English poem Beowulf, for example, a “ship” becomes a “sea-steed” or the “sea” becomes the “whale-road” (3).  Although kennings are a very old form they represent one of the most vibrant and playful aspects of our language, an aspect that we see alive in our language today in the following examples:

Hot potato = something no one wants

Rug rat = toddler or crawling baby

Treehugger = an environmentalist

Bookworm = someone who reads a lot

Pig-skin = a football

Gas-guzzler = a car with poor gas milage (4)

Notice that characteristic of a kenning, each example above is made up of two words to form a compound word.  Furthermore, each kenning makes no direct reference to the person or thing it is naming; instead, each relies on a figurative comparison.  Each kenning, therefore, is a beautifully package compact metaphor.

Today’s Challenge: Coin a Kenning
What new two-word figurative combination would you use to rename a noun, such as a pencil, a Post-it Note, a teacher, a bank, or cat?  Play around with words by creating some of your own kennings.  Pick a noun and brainstorm some ideas.  Remember, to qualify as a kenning your compound must by figurative, so avoid directly naming the person or thing you’re renaming.  A pencil for example might be a word-wand, a thought twig, or a sentence stick.  Once you have a few ideas, pick your best one, and begin actually using it in conversation.  This will be the true test of whether or not it resonates and packs a powerful enough punch to be picked up by real people. (Common Core Reading 4 – Interpret Words and Phrases)

Quotation of the Day:  And so people say to me, “How do I know if a word is real?” You know, anybody who’s read a children’s book knows that love makes things real. If you love a word, use it. That makes it real. Being in the dictionary is an artificial distinction. It doesn’t make a word any more real than any other way. If you love a word, it becomes real. -Erin McKean, The Joy of Lexicography TED Talk

1 October 17  Coin a Word Day  word spy – popularize   See TED talk on lexicography  – love –http://www.thisdayinquotes.com/search/label/Word%20origins

2-http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002586.html

3-Christopher Johnson.  Microstyle:  The Art of Writing Little.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 2011:  163.

4- http://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-kenning.html

https://www.ted.com/talks/erin_mckean_redefines_the_dictionary

http://grammar.about.com/od/rhetoricstyle/a/ColbertMetaphors.htm

 

October 16:  Dictionary Day

Writing in the Boston Globe in 2009, lexicographer Erin McKean presented the following imaginative and idealistic vision for Dictionary Day, the day that celebrates the birthday of the one man synonymous with the dictionary, Noah Webster (1758-1843):

. . . small children placed their dictionary stands by the hearthstone, hoping that Noah himself would magically come down the chimney and leave them a shiny new dictionary (left open to the word “dictionary,” of course). In some places, Dictionary Day is celebrated with bonfires of the past years’ dictionaries, the baking of the traditional aardvark-shaped cookies, and the singing of etymology carols (1).

Noah Webster was born in Hartford, Connecticut on October 16, 1758. He went on to graduate from Yale and to work as a lawyer. His most noteworthy work, however, came as a school teacher. Unhappy with the curriculum materials he was given to teach, he created his own uniquely American curriculum: A three-part Grammatical Institute of the English Language. It included a spelling book, a grammar book, and a reader.

Webster served in the student militia at Yale during the Revolutionary War. He never saw combat, but while he never fought in the literal battle for independence from Britain, he was a key player in the battle to make American English independent from British English.

His spelling book, known as the “Blue-Backed Speller,” became one of the most popular and influential works in American history. Only the Bible sold more copies.  According Bill Bryson in his book The Mother Tongue, Noah’s spelling book went through at least 300 editions and sold more than sixty million copies. Because of the wide use of his spelling book and his dictionary published in 1828, Webster had a significant impact on the spelling and pronunciation of American English. His dictionary contained more than 70,000 words, and it was the most complete dictionary of its time (2).

Many of the distinctive differences in spelling and pronunciation of British words versus English words can be traced back to Webster. For example:

Change of -our to –or as in colour and color, honour and honor, labour and labor.

Change of –re to er as in centre and center, metre and meter, theatre and theater

Change of –ce to se as in defence and defense, licence and license, offence and offense

The change of the British double-L in travelled and traveller to the American traveled, traveler.

Not all of Webster’s spelling changes stuck, however. David Grambs, in his book Death by Spelling, lists the following as examples of words that were retracted in later editions of Webster’s Dictionary: iz, relm, mashine, yeer, bilt, tung, breth, helth, beleeve, and wimmen (3).

After Webster’s death in 1843, the rights to his dictionaries were purchased by Charles and George Merriam. The first volume of their dictionary, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary was published in 1847.

After purchasing the rights for use of the Webster name, the Merriam brothers lost a legal battle to use the name exclusively. As a result, today other dictionaries use the name Webster even though they have no connection to Webster or his original work. Because of this Merriam-Webster includes the following assurance of quality for its dictionaries:

Not just Webster. Merriam-Webster.™

Other publishers may use the name Webster, but only Merriam-Webster products are backed by 150 years of accumulated knowledge and experience. The Merriam-Webster name is your assurance that a reference work carries the quality and authority of a company that has been publishing since 1831 (4).

The following are examples of other spelling changes made by Webster. They, in a large part, account for the differences in spelling that exist today in British English versus American English:

cheque to check

draught to draft

manoeuvre to maneuver

moustache to mustache

plough to plow

skilful to skillful

mediaeval to medieval

mould to mold (2)

Today’s Challenge: Dictionary Day Decalogue

What is your favorite word in the English language?  What kind of information can you find in a dictionary besides just the correct spellings and definitions of words?  Dictionaries tell us much more than just spelling and definitions. To celebrate Dictionary Day brainstorm a list of your favorite words.  Then, grab a good dictionary, and make a list of at least “Ten Things You Can Find in a Dictionary Besides Spelling and Definitions.”  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quote of the Day:  So we should expand our thinking about dictionaries. Language is power – we understand that words can move us to tears or laughter, inspire us to great deeds or urge us to mob action. Dictionaries are the democratization of that power, and the more words they contain, the more democratic they are. The dictionary is a gigantic armory and toolbox combined, accessible to all. It reflects our preoccupations, collects our cultural knowledge, and gives us adorable pictures of aardvarks, to boot. And it does all this one word at a time. -Erin McKean

1 – http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2009/10/18/the_word_the_case_for_dictionary_day/

2- Bryson, Bill. The Mother Tongue. New York: Perennial, 1990.

3 –Reader’s Digest Success with Words: A Guide to the American Language. New York: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1983.

4 – Grambs, David. Death by Spelling: A Compendium of Tests, Super Tests, and Killer Bees. New York: Harper & Row, 1989: 27.

4-http://www.m-w.com/info/webster.htm

 

October 15:  National Poetry Day

Today is National Poetry Day founded in 1994 by British philanthropist and publisher William Sieghart.  Although this “National” day is celebrated primarily in Britain, there is a definite case for making it a global celebration.  The primary reason for this is that it is the birthday in 70 B.C. of the classical Roman poet Virgil, author of Rome’s national epic, the Aeneid.  Virgil influenced the great Latin poet Ovid, as well as Dante, major Italian poet of the Middle Ages.  In Dante’s epic poem the Divine Comedy, Dante features Virgil as his guide on his travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.

Vergilius.jpgIn his own epic, the Aeneid, Virgil traces the travels of the mythical hero Aeneas, a Trojan prince, who becomes Rome’s great hero and father.  Before his death in 19 B.C., Virgil supposedly left instructions for the Aeneid to be burned.  Emperor Augustus, however, wouldn’t allow it to be destroyed; instead, he ordered two of Virgil’s friends to edit it, and two years later it was published (1).

The purpose of National Poetry Day is to encourage the reading, writing, publishing, listening, and teaching of poetry; it’s also a nice day to plan ahead for spring when Poetry Month is celebrated.  Each year organizers select a theme.  This theme is not meant to be prescriptive, but it can help spark one’s memory of poems from the past as well as ignite imagination for creating new poems.

Here is a list of some of the themes from past years:

Song Lyrics, Fresh Voices, Journeys, Celebration, Britain, Food, The Future, Identity, Dreams, Work, Heroes and Heroines, Home, Games, Stars, Water, Remember, Light (2)

One excellent way to celebrate National Poetry Day is by putting together a thematic anthology of poetry or poetic prose.  The word anthology in the original Greek meant to gather flowers:  anthos “a flower” + logia “collecting.”  Today we use the word metaphorically, the flowers being samples of the best verse by various writers gathered into one beautiful bouquet of a book.

Today’s Challenge:  Beautiful Words Bound
What are some themes that you might select if you were putting together an anthology of prose or poetry?  Brainstorm a list of possible themes.  Then, select the one theme you like the best.  Using word association, generate a list of words and phrases you associate with your theme.  Use this list to identify some titles of published works you might include in an anthology or to generate some ideas for new works you might create for your anthology.  Finally, write an introduction to your anthology, explaining why you picked your theme, why your theme is relevant and important, and what kinds of works you plan to put in your anthology. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  A well chosen anthology is a complete dispensary of medicine for the more common mental disorders, and may be used as much for prevention as cure. -Robert Graves

 

1-http://www.britannica.com/biography/Virgil

2-http://www.forwardartsfoundation.org/national-poetry-day/what-is-national-poetry-day/

 

October 14:  A Speech Can Save a Life Day

On this date in 1912, Theodore Roosevelt was shot by an unemployed saloon keeper in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Roosevelt was nearing the end of his campaign for president.  Having left politics after his second term as U.S. president in 1909, he returned for a run at an unprecedented third term when his hand-picked successor William Taft did not live up to his expectations.  For this campaign, Roosevelt formed a new political party, The Bull Moose Party (officially called the National Progressive Party).

On the evening of October 14th, Roosevelt was leaving his hotel in Milwaukee to make a campaign speech.  Just as he was entering the car that would take him to the auditorium, an unemployed saloonkeeper named John Schrank, standing a few feet away, fired a shot from his Colt .38 revolver into Roosevelt’s chest.  Schrank was immediately tackled and arrested, and Roosevelt’s handlers prepared to whisk him away to the hospital.  Roosevelt, however, refused, demanding to be taken immediately to the auditorium to fulfill his campaign appearance.

Only when he arrived backstage at the auditorium did Roosevelt allow himself to be examined by doctors.  Their exam revealed that a bullet had indeed pierced Roosevelt’s chest.  Although he was bleeding, the shot was not fatal — fortunately for Roosevelt the bullet’s path had been slowed by the folded 50-page speech he carried in his breast pocket.  Stepping up the podium, Roosevelt revealed his bloody shirt and the bullet-pierced manuscript of his speech to the audience.  He began his speech by saying:  “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot—but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”

Only after speaking for more than an hour did Roosevelt step away from the podium.  On Election Day, November 5th, Roosevelt lost the election to the Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson.  John Schrank spent the rest of his life in an insane asylum.  In a somewhat Shakespearean twist, Schrank claimed that the ghost of President William McKinley had appeared to him and ordered the hit; it was McKinley’s assassination that had made Roosevelt president in 1901.

Today, visitors to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History can view a bullet-pierced page of Roosevelt’s speech.  The bullet, however, remained lodged in Roosevelt’s rib for the rest of his lift.  He died in his sleep in 1919 and is buried in Oyster Bay, New York.

Unlike many people, Theodore Roosevelt did not fear public speaking.  According to the Washington Post, public speaking is the the biggest phobia of Americans, followed by fear of heights, drowning, strangers, zombies, and clowns (in that order) (2).

One antidote to fear of public is a good sense of humor and a realistic understanding that it is an irrational fear, as illustrated by Jerry Seinfeld in the following joke:

I read a thing that actually says that speaking in front of a crowd is considered the number one fear of the average person. I found that amazing – number two was death! That means to the average person if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.

An even better antidote is to face it head on, as explain in the following analogy by Dale Carnegie in his book The Art of Public Speaking:

Did you ever notice in looking from a train window that some horses feed near the track and never even pause to look up at the thundering cars, while just ahead at the next railroad crossing a farmer’s wife will be nervously trying to quiet her scared horse as the train goes by? How would you cure a horse that is afraid of cars—graze him in a back-woods lot where he would never see steam-engines or automobiles, or drive or pasture him where he would frequently see the machines? Apply horse-sense to ridding yourself of self-consciousness and fear: face an audience as frequently as you can, and you will soon stop shying.

Today’s Challenge:  I Came, I Saw, I Spoke

How can people best sum up the courage to confront and conquer their fears of public speaking? What are your top three go-to topics for a brief speech?

You’re not always given the chance to pick your own topic; however, choosing and preparing speeches on topics you care about is an excellent way to gain the kind of confidence you need to speak under any circumstances (even with a bullet lodged in your chest).  For example, when Julius Caesar was a young man he was kidnapped by pirates; to kill time during his captivity, he composed short speeches and poems and read them aloud to his captors.  Brainstorm a list of your go-to speech topics — topics that you know something about and are passionate about.  Then compose a short speech sharing your passion with an audience. (Common Core Speaking and Listening 4 – Present Information)

Quotation of the Day:  Be sincere, be brief, be seated.  –Franklin D. Roosevelt, cousin to Theodore Roosevelt and 32nd President of the Unites States.

 

1- //www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-speech-that-saved-teddy-roosevelts-life-83479091/?no-ist

2- https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-real-story-risk/201211/the-thing-we-fear-more-death

 

October 13: The Battle of Hastings Day

The year 1066 marks the most important year in the history of the English language. The most important single day in that year was October 13th. It’s a date that might have signaled the beginning of the extinction of English; instead, it marks the beginning of a remarkable evolution and enrichment of the language.

Harold dead bayeux tapestry.pngAt Hastings in Sussex, England on this date, the Saxon army of King Harold confronted an invading army of French-speaking soldiers from Normandy, a province of France just across the English Channel. The Battle of Hastings was fought from approximately 9 am to dusk. Thousands of soldiers died that day, and the Norman army, led by William, Duke of Normandy, prevailed. Harold was killed, shot through the eye with an arrow, and William marched his victorious army to London, where he was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066.

Scenes from the bloody battle are depicted in the colorful Bayeux Tapestry, a 229 feet long embroidered cloth, which was commissioned by William’s brother not long after the battle (1).

William the Conqueror was now King of England. The French speaking Normans thus ruled England, and Norman-French as well as Latin became the language of government. The Saxons were defeated, but their language did not die. The conquering Normans were outnumbered by the Saxons, who continued to use English in their common, everyday activities. So instead of being stamped out by French, English adsorbed French words, enriching its lexicon over the next two hundred years.

The Norman Invasion of 1066 marks the end of the Old English period of the history of English and the beginning of the Middle English period. One of the rich legacies of this period is the great variety of words and rich well of synonyms that are characteristic of English. Richard Lederer, in his book The Miracle of Language, states it eloquently:

Bequeathing us the common words of everyday life, many of them fashioned from a single syllable, Anglo-Saxon is the foundation of our language. Its directness, brevity and plainness make us feel more deeply and see things about us more truly. The grandeur, sonority and courtliness of the French elements lift us to another, and more literary, level of expression (1).

We can see this difference illustrated by the Anglo-Saxon words ask, end, fear, and dead and their synonyms of French derivation, question, finish, terror, and deceased. Some writers argue that we should favor the short, precise words of Anglo-Saxon origin to the longer words derived from French, Latin, or Greek. Winston Churchill, for example, expressed his bias when he said, “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.”

Today’s Challenge: Saxon Short Short Story
Is it possible to tell an effective story or give an effective speech using words of only a single syllable? One way to test Churchill’s claim is to try your hand at writing using words of only one syllable. It’s also an excellent way to learn to pay careful attention to your word choice. In general, the foundational Anglo-Saxon words in English are one syllable words, unlike words from French, Latin, or Greek, which tend to be more than a single syllable. Write a narrative of at least 200 words and make sure to use only one syllable words. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: To do all that one is able to do is to be a man; to do all that one would like to do is to be a god. -Napoleon Bonaparte

1-http://www.bayeuxmuseum.com/en/la_tapisserie_de_bayeux_en.html
2- Lederer, Richard. The Miracle of Language. New York: Pocket Books, 1991: 19-21.

October 12: Hero or Villain Day

On this date in 1492, Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) landed on the shores of San Salvador, an island in the Bahamas. There is no doubt that his “discovery” changed the course of history. There is also little doubt that Columbus and his crew of ninety men demonstrated great courage and perseverance, venturing into the vast unknown. As we reflect on history, however, we should not ignore its dark side, acknowledging that not everything about Columbus’ exploration was positive. We know, for example, that many of the native people Columbus encountered were either killed or enslaved. It’s hard, therefore, to see Columbus as either exclusively a hero or a villain of history.

Portrait of a Man, Said to be Christopher Columbus.jpgColumbus Day was first declared a federal holiday by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937. As with all federal holidays, the president issues an official proclamation to honor the day each year. The careful wording of the following excerpts from President Barack Obama’s 2014 proclamation reflect the two points of view concerning Columbus’ influence on history:

In a new world, a history was written. It tells the story of an idea — that all women and men are created equal — and a people’s struggle to fulfill it. And it is a history shared by Native Americans, one marred with long and shameful chapters of violence, disease, and deprivation. . . .

Columbus’s historic voyage ushered in a new age, and since, the world has never been the same. His journey opened the door for generations of Italian immigrants who followed his path across an ocean in pursuit of the promise of America. Like Columbus, these immigrants and their descendants have shaped the place where they landed. Italian Americans have enriched our culture and strengthened our country. They have served with honor and distinction in our Armed Forces, and today, they embrace their rich heritage as leaders in our communities and pioneers of industry.

On Columbus Day, we reflect on the moment the world changed. And as we recognize the influence of Christopher Columbus, we also pay tribute to the legacy of Native Americans and our Government’s commitment to strengthening their tribal sovereignty. We celebrate the long history of the American continents and the contributions of a diverse people, including those who have always called this land their home and those who crossed an ocean and risked their lives to do so. With the same sense of exploration, we boldly pursue new frontiers of space, medicine, and technology and dare to change our world once more. (1)

Today’s Challenge: Hero or Villain? Your Verdict on History
When we study history it’s easy to sometimes oversimplify, labeling individuals as either great heroes of history or infamous villains. An interesting exercise is to explore historic individuals, like Columbus, who don’t fit so easily in either camp. Who is an individual from history who is not seen as purely a hero or a villain? Once you have selected your individual, do some research, gathering evidence on which side of the hero/villain continuum the individual should sit. Don’t put him or her in the middle; instead, argue your verdict like a judge, stating your case for whether the person is a hero or a villain. If you’re working with a number of people, have a debate, so that both sides are presented.

For an example go to the website for Intelligence Squared where you can see a 2014 debate entitled “Napoleon the Great?” which argued the historical legacy of France’s leader. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: I like villains because there’s something so attractive about a committed person – they have a plan, an ideology, no matter how twisted. They’re motivated. -Russell Crowe

1- https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/10/10/presidential-proclamation-columbus-day-2014
2-http://www.intelligencesquared.com/events/napoleon-the-great-andrew-roberts-adam-zamoyski/